FRISCO, Texas — Stick around long enough in the NFL and you’re bound to see a lot of things that seems very familiar, even if you can’t quite place it immediately. That’s what last week’s improbable 40-39 win by the Dallas Cowboys against the Atlanta Falcons felt like.

As running back Ezekiel Elliott said after the game, the Cowboys should not have won that game.

But they did.

And maybe this is the moment coach Mike McCarthy’s team uses as a rallying cry for the rest of the 2020 season.

Bill Parcells had his in 2003, his first season as the Cowboys’ head coach. Wade Phillips had his in 2007, his first season. And, yes, Jason Garrett had his in 2011, his first season.

In an effort to connect previous similarities as McCarthy’s Cowboys (1-1) enter a Week 3 matchup (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox) at the Seattle Seahawks (2-0), let’s examine how each of these former Cowboys leaders handled some of the franchise’s pivotal wins.

Parcells ‘built that trust’ in 2003

In 2003, the Cowboys were coming off a poor showing in the season-opening loss to the Falcons and faced the New York Giants in Week 2. Parcells was returning to Giants Stadium, a place where he had success as head coach of the Giants (1983-90) and New York Jets (1997-99).

Sixty years ago, America’s Team became the NFL’s 13th team. For more on the franchise’s storied history:

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The Cowboys blew a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter — sound familiar? — and trailed 32-29 after a field goal by New York’s Matt Bryant with 11 seconds to play. The Cowboys were staring at a gut-wrenching loss, but a special teams’ gaffe — sound familiar? — aided them when Bryant’s kickoff went out of bounds. With first down at the 40, quarterback Quincy Carter hit Antonio Bryant for 25 yards, and Billy Cundiff made a 52-yard field goal to tie it at the end of regulation.

With 5:56 left in overtime, Cundiff won the game with a 25-yard field goal, his then-record tying seventh of the game.

“What made that so special was the fact that we practiced situational football,” Cowboys Ring of Honor safety Darren Woodson said. “Never before had I practiced situational football before Parcells got there. We rarely did and he had it mapped out, ‘OK, we’re down six, this is how much time is on the clock,’ all that. We used to run that same route to Bryant over and over and over in camp. For me, that’s what catapulted us because when we ran it, we knew what was going to be called, and it was like clockwork.

“So when it happens, it’s instant trust between Parcells and the team because he set the plan in motion. We built that trust that this dude knows what the f— what he’s talking about. Then it became trust — trust that, yeah, this guy is a football genius. He prepares us the right way.”

That 35-32 victory in 2003 started the Cowboys on a five-game winning streak, seven wins in an eight-game span and an unlikely playoff appearance after the bulk of that roster finished 5-11 every year from 2000 to 2002.

Phillips oversees 13-3 team in 2007

Four years later, Phillips was in his first season as Parcells’ replacement. A loaded Cowboys team rolled over opponents in the first four games, outscoring them, 151-72. Their Week 5 meeting at the Buffalo Bills was supposed to be just as easy.

But, it wasn’t.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was intercepted five times. With 24 seconds to play, Dallas was down eight points when Romo hit wide receiver Patrick Crayton for a 4-yard touchdown. The subsequent 2-point play, a fade to wide receiver Terrell Owens, fell incomplete, setting up an onside kick attempt. (Ring a bell?)

With different rules for kickoffs then that allowed teams to overload one side and get a running start, Nick Folk’s kick was batted forward by Dallas wideout Sam Hurd after 10 yards and eventually recovered by Cowboys tight end Tony Curtis.

With 18 seconds left at the Buffalo 47, the Cowboys thought they had a 22-yard completion to Owens, but replay correctly overturned the play. After short throws to Marion Barber and Crayton, Folk drilled a 53-yarder and the Cowboys got out of Western New York with a 25-24 win.

The Cowboys lost their first game of the 2007 season the following week, but that win was the impetus to a 12-1 start that allowed the team to go 13-3 and gain home-field advantage in the playoffs.

“That game was big,” said long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur, the only current Cowboys player who remains from that ’07 roster. “You had a feeling like, ‘We can win these games even if it doesn’t go right.'”

Garrett’s 2011 season ends at 8-8

In 2011, Garrett’s first full season as head coach, the Cowboys were coming off a disappointing Week 1 loss to the Jets in which they gave up a 14-point fourth-quarter lead because of two Romo turnovers. In Week 2, the Cowboys trailed the San Francisco 49ers by 10 points with 11 minutes to play and Romo was playing with broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Romo directed two scoring drives to tie it up on a 48-yard field goal by Dan Bailey with no time left.

Romo led the Cowboys, who were playing in overtime without their top two wide receivers, Dez Bryant (inactive) and Miles Austin (hamstring injury), with a strike to wideout Jesse Holley for 77 yards to set up Bailey’s winner from 19 yards.

Unlike the games that lifted up the Cowboys in 2003 and 2007, however, the 2011 Cowboys saw their season disintegrate during the month of December. Dallas entered the final month with a 7-4 record and won one more game, missing the playoffs.

Ladouceur played for Parcells, but he was not part of the 2003 game. He was a part of the 2007 and ’11 contests.

“When you’re down 19 at halftime, there’s a lot of teams that would be like, ‘All right, let’s just pack it in,'” he said of Sunday’s comeback against Atlanta. “You never know what guys are thinking, but never did I feel like we were really out of it. There was this weird feeling. I didn’t see despair in anybody’s eyes. Guys were still enthused … This type of game can definitely launch you into more successes.

“As people know, winning brings a ton load of confidence.”

 

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